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Chef takes war to waste coffee cups

Chef takes war to waste coffee cups
Celebrity TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has criticised top coffee companies Costa and Starbucks for misleading claims surrounding the sustainability of their single-use coffee cups.

Fearnley-Whittingstall, the winner of this year’s Resource Hot 100 poll, took to the streets of London today (14 March) in his ‘coffee cup battle bus’ to tell the public about the problem and challenge companies to do better.

An estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every year, according to Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage website, a figure equivalent to 5,000 cups being thrown away per minute, or seven million a day. Fearnley-Whittingstall says that just 0.25 per cent of them are recycled.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said that despite people’s best efforts to recycle their coffee cups, putting them in mixed recycling street bins or cardboard-specific collections, most are non-recyclable through normal waste collection services.

He also highlighted the work of Simply Cups, profiled in Resource last year, as the only company with a specialist facility to recycle single-use coffee cups. He said that the company handles ‘less than six million’ cups a year – ‘less than 0.25 per cent of the cups we throw away’.

Chef takes war to waste coffee cups
Misleading claims

The chef has taken aim at Costa and Starbucks in particular, claiming that they make false statements to suggest that their use of disposable cups is greener than it actually is.

He said: “The coffee companies are taking advantage of the public’s false confidence in their responsible actions. They are actively encouraging the misunderstanding, with claims and statements on their websites.

“Costa claims to have ‘the most environmentally friendly coffee cup in the world, but they do not explain on what basis they make this claim. They do send some cups to Simply Cups – but our calculations suggest it’s less than one per cent of all Costa paper cups. I openly invite Costa to prove they are doing better than that. I believe they are using a tiny commitment to Simply Cups to justify statements that are basically greenwash.

“Starbucks claim on their website that they are ‘on track’ with their goal to ‘make 100 per cent of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015’. In fact, Starbucks are not even a client of Simply Cups! So unless they have a ‘secret facility’, they are not able to recycle any of their cups in the UK.”

Fearnley-Whittingstall travelled around London today in a specially designed ‘coffee cup battle bus’, a double decker bus coated in disposable coffee cups, designed by students from Central Saint Martins College. The chef stopped outside Costa and Starbucks branches, and asked members of the public to pledge support and challenge major coffee companies to work to make their single-use cups more sustainable.

Both Costa and Starbucks have been asked to discuss the problem of cup disposal for the return of Hugh’s War on Waste BBC documentary series. Costa has refused and Starbucks has agreed, although according to River Cottage they have yet to give a date for interview.

Levy on single-use cups suggested

Last month, Chris Sherrington from Eunomia Research and Consulting, suggested on the company’s Isonomia blog that the principle of the five-pence charge for single-use carrier bags could be applied to single-use takeaway cups.

A charge on single-use cups, Sherrington wrote, would save small business owners money, prevent waste and litter and help raise money for good causes. He wrote: ‘While I have long advocated the notion of applying a charge to single-use takeaway cups, this view has been largely formed from the perspective of seeking to prevent waste and reduce the wider negative impacts of litter… I must admit that I hadn’t given much thought to the potential benefits to retailers.

‘However, single-use takeaway cups are (to me at least) surprisingly expensive. My friend [who runs an independent coffee shop] pays about 10p per cup and lid. Then he has to store them all inside the relatively cramped café… Finally he is more than a little concerned about the reputational issue of cups that have clearly come from his coffee-shop (there aren’t any others nearby) that end up being littered. Being a good neighbour he feels compelled to send his employees outside to pick up those that he can see.’

Learn more about paper cup recycling in the UK in Resource’s feature article